updated 5/21/2006 5:59:44 PM ET 2006-05-21T21:59:44

Leaders of Silicon Valley's top companies took home $2.6 billion in pay during 2005, the third-highest amount ever and the most since the dot-com boom years of 2000 and 2001, according to a newspaper survey.

While the rising pay reflects an improvement in the economy, earnings and the stock market — public and political fury over the issue of executive pay continues to swell.

The backlash also has reached the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which has proposed new rules to make the reporting of executive pay more comprehensive and transparent.

"We haven't fixed the problem," Brandon Rees, assistant director of the AFL-CIO's office of investment, told the San Jose Mercury News for a story Sunday. "Executive compensation is the last unaddressed corporate scandal."

Omid Kordestani, 42, senior vice president at Google, made the list's top spot this year with total earnings of more than $288 million, according to the Mercury News' latest "What the Boss Makes" survey. Earnings include salary, bonuses, stock options and other compensation.

Critics point to the disparity between salaries and business performance.

Hewlett-Packard has drawn its share of criticism on this issue. It stems mostly from the $21.4 million severance Chief Executive Officer Carly Fiorina received after being ousted last year. While HP has moved to limit severance pay since then, it has not satisfied some shareholders.

In March, a consortium of union pension funds filed a lawsuit, claiming her severance was really worth $42.5 million when her pension and stock were included — a figure that exceeded limits HP adopted in 2003. The company said at the time the lawsuit was without merit.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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